Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Heaven or Hell?

Well, the knives came out at our discussion of The Five People You Meet In Heaven on Saturday, Dec. 5th. The group member who suggested the book was not in attendance, so we probably felt a little more liberated to let loose. We were unanimous in our disfavor, particularly about the author’s artificial construct of heaven. None of us wanted to go there! After all, who wants to be in an afterlife holding pattern waiting for someone else to die so that all can be revealed to that person?

Aside from a few neat tricks, like the lost key and the little girl’s hands, there was not a great deal to recommend about the book except that it’s brief. Yes, there are messages and morals herein, but we felt the author could have done a much better tribute to his uncle by writing a different kind of story. But then that story most likely wouldn’t have become the mass-market killer that The Five People You Meet In Heaven proved to be.

For a funny antidote to this book, I suggest reading the parody, The Five People You Meet In Hell by “Rich Pablum.” It is clever, jocular and filled with celebrity characters who fit surprisingly well into the storyline. Like the original book, it, too, is mercifully short.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Haruki Murakami

Author Haruki Murakami was born and raised in Japan, but is notably well versed in Russian and English literature as well as American culture.  Some of his favorite writers include Raymond Chandler, Kurt Vonnegut, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Campbell and Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  He recently completed a meticulous translation into Japanese of Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, a book which he describes as his "textbook" for how to write.

Murakami is known for having turned his back on his own country's formal literary tradition. Rather, he seeks the inner search or quest which he believes appeals to younger Japanese readers, "my books can offer them a sense of freedom - freedom from the real world." He also states, "That's the beginning of the story. We have rooms in ourselves. Most of them we have not visited yet...From time to time we can find the passage. We find strange things...old phonographs, pictures, books...they belong to us, but it is the first time we have found them." (Author's quotations from World Press Review, August 2001, vol. 48, no. 8.)

Visit the author's webpage to get a good sense of his aesthetics and interests.  In addition, here is a fact sheet elaborating on ten fascinating things you need to know about Haruki Murakami.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Some General Suggestions From The Group

FYI - I have been keeping a list, more or less, of books various group members have enjoyed over the past year:

Soul Catcher - Michael C. White
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written By Herself - Harriet Jacobs
The Broken Shore - Peter Temple
Still Alice - Lisa Genova
Shalimar the Clown - Salman Rushdie
Five-Finger Discount - Helene Stapinski
Mockingbird - Charles J. Shields
The Help - Kathryn Stockett
Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Stroudt
Lost City of Z - David Grann
Edith Wharton - Hermione Lee
The Madonnas of Leningrad - Debra Dean
Bad Cop - Paul Bacon
In the Lake of the Woods - Tim O'Brien
The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry
My Stroke of Insight - Jill Bolte Taylor
The Wild Places - Robert MacFarlane
The Bookseller of Kabul - Asne Seierstad

Please enter other books you want to share with the group under the comments link below.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Crashing Through, Just For You

Robert Kurson is familiar to us as the author of the very exciting book, Shadow Divers, which we read last year.   Kurson's Web site provides interesting information on his next book, Crashing Through, published in 2007.  Here you'll find a photo gallery of Mike May, review comments, and animated illusions which were described in the book.

Further information on Mike May can be found at the Sendero Group Web site, where you can also read news releases.  One of them dates from July of this year when May met with President Obama.  Sendero Group also has a photo gallery of Mr. May.

Finally, here is the link to The New York Times book review of Crashing Through.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye

Are we ready to tackle this impressive book by Canadian author, Margaret Atwood?  I just finished reading it today (!) and finally get the significance of the cover illustration.  What a powerful, mood-filled, thought-provoking book.

Born in 1939 in Ottawa, Ontario, Margaret Atwood is the daughter of a forest entomologist who reared her in the northern Canadian wilderness during her early years.  In a Reading Group Guides interview she notes, "I grew up in the north under rather isolated circumstances, spending most of my early life in a forest with no electricity, no running water, without any radio or movies, and before television.  I was read to a lot as a child."  She graduated from the University of Toronto and earned a masters from Radcliffe College.  Honored with many literary awards, Atwood is best known for novels such as The Handmaid's Tale, The Robber Bride, The Blind Assassin, and Oryx and Crake as well as Cat's Eye.  Her newest book will be published September 22, 2009, and is entitled The Year of the Flood.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Loved The Histories

The Saturday Samplers group loved discussing Case Histories by Kate Atkinson at our July 11, 2009, meeting. We enjoyed the way the author tweaked the normal detective genre, giving us a sympathetic detective-without-the-star-quality, Jackson Brodie, who must contend as much with issues in his own life as with the oddball cases that come his way. Set in modern-day England, there is no pretense of class or airs, and everybody is found to have their own "histories" which haunt them. The author's use of time and humor worked well to keep us engaged with the unfolding mysteries and the great characters involved.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

About Kate Atkinson

Author of our next book, Case Histories, Kate Atkinson was born in England (1951), but moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, after receiving her M.A. in English literature in 1974. While writing magazine articles and short stories, she also worked at a series of low level jobs in order to support herself and her two children before striking gold with her first novel, Behind the Scenes at the Museum. This book was awarded several prizes, primarily the 1995 Whitbread Book of the Year Award for first novels. Atkinson broadened her writing repertoire with two plays, more short fiction, and a number of novels including Human Croquet, Case Histories, One Good Turn, and When Will There Be Good News?

Kate Atkinson is known for her sense of humor and parody which helps to lighten the storylines of her often dysfunctional characters and their family units. She also utilizes the device of flashbacks to reveal elements of her story in a non-linear, crazy quilt of unfolding action. And she has dabbled in Magic Realism as well. Case Histories offers us the first appearance of Jackson Brodie, down-but-not-out detective who will reappear in subsequent books, as noted in my June 12th posting. When interviewed by Publishers Weekly, 10/25/2004, she stated that in Brodie she "wanted to write a good man but with a darkness at his core, a world-weary kind of hero."

Friday, June 12, 2009

The First in the Jackson Brodie Series

We will be reading Kate Atkinson's 2004 Case Histories for our July 11th meeting. If you like this book, you'll be happy to know that the author does, too. Or at least she likes her main character, Jackson Brodie, detective, enough to feature him in two subsequent books:



Friday, June 5, 2009

Blink Next

Saturday Samplers book group will discuss Malcolm Gladwell's Blink this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in the Small Meeting Room of Bernardsville Public Library.

See my earlier posting from today to learn more about the author and his book.

Beyond Thin-Slicing Blink and Malcolm Gladwell

Here is a 2006 New York Times article with lots of insight into Malcolm Gladwell and two of his books, The Tipping Point and Blink.

If you'd like to hear Gladwell deliver a short lecture (on spaghetti sauce, no less!) press play below.

Since both were discussed in Blink, did you wonder what an Aeron chair looks like or how Kenna's music sounds? Simply click on Aeron and Kenna to find out.

Finally, visit Malcolm Gladwell's blog and Web site.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

More about Wright

Just got an email today from book group member Jilana Dellal with this Smithsonian article about Frank Lloyd Wright. Jilana wanted you to note the photo gallery for some more pictures of Wright, his family and his architectural works. Thanks, Jilana.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Taliesin Photos

Click on the photo above to view an extensive photo album of exterior and interior shots of Taliesin East. I found this album on while searching FLW.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Read This...Read That?

We are looking forward to discussing Nancy Horan's fictional account of Frank Lloyd Wright's relationship with Mamah Borthwick Cheney,entitled Loving Frank, for our next book group meeting on May 2nd.

If you have already read Loving Frank, you might be interested in comparing it to the 2009 fictional work by T.C. Boyle, The Women, which concerns Wright and four women involved with him, including Mamah. One book jacket suggests the next apparently.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ursula Le Guin on SF and Writing

Ursula Le Guin is the author of our next book, The Lathe of Heaven, published in 1971. Here's a link to an interesting recent interview of the author in Vice Magazine. In it she is asked what constitutes science fiction, and this is her response:

"Science fiction—and the correct shortcut is “sf”—uses actual scientific facts or theories for the source ideas or framework of the story. It has some scientific content, however speculative. If it breaks a law of physics, it knows it’s doing so and follows up the consequences. If it invents a society of aliens, it does so with some respect for and knowledge of the social sciences and what you might call social probabilities. And some of it is literarily self-aware enough to treat its metaphors as metaphors."

Asked how she can keep straight the many worlds that she has created in her fiction, the author shows her wit as well as her mastery of writing:

"No, no, thank you for saying so, Steve, but if I really had, I would admire myself tremendously. I would be in awe of my own staggeringly great mind. What I did was give the illusion of there being all those different worlds. That’s called art, or fiction, or something. The rule is, you only invent what you have to. And that’s pretty much what’s right in front of the reader. Let’s say it’s an ansible. I do not, in fact, invent the ansible. I do not explain how it works. I cannot, but shhh. I simply present the device as working, and as coming from a society which is far in advance of ours in science and technology, having spaceships that can travel nearly as fast as light, et cetera. And this background or context creates expectation and softens up the readers’ credulity so that they’re willing to “believe in” the ansible—inside the covers of the book. After the ansible had been around for a while, I invented the man who invented it, Shevek, in The Dispossessed. And he and I played around with some pretty neat speculations about time and interval and stuff, which lent more plausibility to the gimmick itself. But all I really invented was a) the idea of an instantaneous transmitter and b) a name for it. The reader does the rest. If you give them enough background/context, they can fill in the gaps. It isn’t just smoke and mirrors. There has to be a coherent vision of how things hang together in that society/culture/world. All the details have to fit together and be thought through as to their implications. But, well... it’s mostly smoke and mirrors. What else is any fiction?"

Asked whether she is pleased with the film adaptations of her books, the author states:

"The only good adaptation to film I’ve had so far is the 1980 Lathe of Heaven from PBS. It’s still available on DVD. It was made on a budget that wouldn’t pay for the hairdressers’ doughnuts these days, but the screenplay’s adequate, the directing is intelligent, the acting is super, and the special effects are really something else. Like, the spaceships are lighted Frisbees, being hurled into the air by Ed Emshwiller’s son. I love it."

To learn more about this author, visit Ursula Le Guin's terrific Web site. It is definitely worth exploring.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Shadow Divers

Robert Kurson's Shadow Divers is today's topic of discussion for Saturday Samplers. Most readers should find this to be a fascinating story on many levels, not the least because it is true. Filled with daring divers whose personal lives presented them with challenges aplenty, the book churns with the excitement of high-risk underwater adventure undertaken by those on an extraordinary quest. One learns many interesting facts about diving and its dangers, but that is only one aspect of this multi-genre book. It is one part adventure story, one part a military history, one part character study, and one part dumbfounding mystery. "Breathless" is the way you will feel even as you read the last few pages.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Consensus on The Book Thief

Everyone who attended our February meeting (and two members who couldn't attend) agreed that The Book Thief by Markus Zusak was a very special book. We all liked it quite a bit and found that it provided good discussion material. The characters grabbed us right away, and human nature in its different aspects was well represented by these characters. Death held his own and then some. Several of us found the story very moving (a few of us shed some tears,) and we all would recommend this book. We were slightly perplexed by the domino imagery on the cover, though.